Wild Yards: Conflict Management the Wild Way

In our Wild Yards series, we have been discussing the four needed ingredients (i.e., food source, water source, hiding places and a place to raise babies) for attracting wildlife to your garden and why that might be important for creating a diverse environment. Inevitably, conflict will arise between species, human or otherwise. Gardening with ecosystems and habitat in mind is a lot about managing expectations, tradeoffs and tolerance levels. 

If you plant a pollinator garden which includes a diverse array of host plants, guess what? You will have plants with holes in the leaves or entire sections of the plant missing (quiet gasp of horror). If you want a pristine, flawless garden, plant silk flowers from Hobby Lobby and be done with it. That is a truly maintenance free garden! Encouraging wildlife means a change in aesthetic expectations. Wellfield staff attempt to walk a fine line between “world class” display and happily munching insects and mammals. Working with nature is a beauty all its own, as I see it. However, the public or your neighbors have certain expectations (unreasonable or not) that you should not ignore (sometimes at the risk of monetary bereavement).

An important concept in Integrated Pest Management, or wildlife management if you will, is the idea of “thresholds”. Just because you see that darn insect crawling on your favorite rose does not mean you must call in an air strike from on high. There are different tolerance levels, or thresholds, to consider. For growers, there is the economic threshold: how much damage can be tolerated before margin is compromised? For Wellfield, that might be when the damage is greater than the cost of the plant(s), sort of like when a person totals a car. For example, we are very concerned about beavers here, because they can quickly destroy years worth of plants of great value, the backbone of a garden space. There is the more vague “aesthetic” threshold. When does a plant get the uglies? It depends, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if one is committed to inviting a wild party, one might need to adjust their expectations.

Urban sprawl and development is encroaching more and more on wild space, forcing some species to successfully adapt to the urban/suburban environment. With this dynamic, therefore, it is not surprising there is increasing conflict between these competing interests. When you decide to have a wild party in the yard, sending out the invitation, you might get some unwanted guests. Now what? Before you freak out and call the TruGreen cops, ask yourself, “How important is it really?” How important is their presence compared to your goal? Why are they present? Are they responding to a garden pest as a food source? Are they a true threat? It depends. Maybe the enemy of my enemy is my friend. At Wellfield, we have portions of the Gardens where members of the rodent family live out their lives without a threat from the gardener: happy Peter Rabbit and happy Mr. McGregor. However, in other places, we have a zero tolerance policy. Instead of making eradication of all pesky rodents the goal (usually an impossible goal), we manage the population, keeping it within “acceptable” limits, sort of like how Nature does. 

Conflict management of the wild type requires some adjustments on the part of the gardener; learn to pick your battles carefully. The more you structure your garden along ecological lines, valuing diversity, the more free checks and balances nature will provide, easing the workload for those weekend warriors out there. 

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager

Missed our recent installments in the “Wild Yard” series? Click the links below to catch up!

  • Wild Yards: Conflict Management the Wild Way
    What do you do when the wildlife in your yard gets too wild? Josh offers some ways to cope. Continue reading
  • Wild Yards: Give Me Shelter, Or Give Me Death!
    Our “Wild Yard” biodiversity series continues; today, Lead Horticulturalist Amy talks about ways to provide shelter for wildlife in your yard, to ensure you are attracting a wide range of wildlife. Continue reading
  • Wet and Wild Yards
    Lead Horticulturalist Cody continues our “Wild” biodiversity series with a look at the role water plays in your yard. Continue reading
  • Wild Yards: Foodies R Us
    All living things must have food to survive. The keys to attracting wildlife to your yard are knowledge and variety. Once you decide who you would like to invite into your yard, knowing what they like to eat and offering them a variety of tasty treats will increase the odds they will accept your invitation. I mean, who wants to eat the same thing every day!? Continue reading
  • Wild Yards
    Your landscape IS an ecosystem, and it behaves like an ecosystem, whether you think about your piece of paradise in such terms or not. Most gardening problems/difficulties and hard work stem from not understanding or downright ignoring this fact. Want a “low maintenance” landscape? Thinking about your garden as a habitat might help. Continue reading

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